It seemed like a good idea at the time. We’re having a lovely late Indian summer and it would be criminal to let it go by. So we didn’t. No other criminal acts were committed either. If any law enforcement officer were to look over these reports at a later date I would like to place on record that I make a lot of what I write up and anyway you can’t prove anything because we weren’t there and we didn’t do it. What was it anyway?
I also want to point out, early on, that nothing was Roger’s fault. Which makes a change.
We had delayed the start slightly so that I could attend a book launch. Talk over and book signed there wasn’t very much left to do there so I set off to meet the crew just upstream of Stratford. I’ve never gone on a Canoe trip in a dress and heels before and probably never will again. Sadly there was no-one to witness my finery because I was early and had changed before the crew began to arrive. We did a count up of cars and drivers and calculated that we would have to bring two back. We did some more counting and came to the conclusion that if one car stayed everyone else could come back in one car.
For the first time in years I was left with the paddlers as the cars took off to shuttle. Everyone who gets left with the boats knows this, but it was a new to me: the cars seem to take forever. The two boys, Jim and Finn, occupied themselves as only youngsters can. Jodie, James, PK, Ilona and I basked in the sun. We discussed the appeal (or not) of fishing, Ilona’s plans to set up kayak holidays when she moves to Finland in a few weeks and had an impromptu poetry reading.
PK defended our reserved parking space from marauding tourists (don’t mess with PK, he’s scary) and then we had the phone call. From Richard. He was lost. Well, it is traditional to lose someone. Jim was worried about his dad. Mostly, I think, because he still had the sandwiches. It was a bit of excitement and we managed to direct him to the car park in Bidford. Excitement over, we were back to basking in the sun.
The returning shuttle car was a welcome sight. The doors opened disgorging a nameless group of drivers, but Roger was missing. Had he got lost too? It would only be right. Then they opened the boot. Wrapped up like an expendable character in a mafia movie was Roger. We had miscounted the drivers and he had been smuggled back to us past the police in Stratford.
So there we were. Half a report written and not on the river yet. But it would be fine. Brian had paddled this trip before and he said it only took him three hours. We set off through a busy Stratford, narrowly avoiding disaster a number of times as inexpertly driven hire boats veered across the river, and members of their crews fell in.
At the first weir our leader declared his boat far too delicate to shoot it and he veered off to portage. I gathered the remnant and headed off to negotiate the barrier and investigate. The weir is a straightforward slope. There was nothing to worry anyone so I nominated Roger and Jodi to run last and PK to follow me so that he could pick Malcolm up when he inevitably fell in. One by one the boats followed, punching through the small wave at the bottom with no casualties. Richard headed over to the bank to pick up his boys and PK and I explored the playing opportunities. Soon it appeared we should be ready to go but a head count showed Ilona missing. She hadn’t followed us over the weir. I had a minor panic, but she soon turned up having portaged and we were on our way again.
Stratford’s business doesn’t extend blow the lock so now we were on a nice wide and peaceful river. The dual purpose and flat touring boats paddled by Stuart, Simon and Malcolm come into their own here. James and PK in white water boats and Richard and I paddling solo open boats (I don’t count the boys, at that age they are rightly more interested in using their paddles to splash) began to gather at the back. Our mood was sunny optimism. Days like this in October are a rare gift and to be made the most of. Little did we know how much we were to given to enjoy.
The afternoon drifted pleasantly away in chat and banter. Roger and Jodi broke out the Newky Brown Ale. Some of the Avon’s weirs are heavily overgrown and broken and unrunnable in these flows. Some may be unrunnable in any flow. So we portaged most of them.
As we the afternoon drew towards evening we came to the pub at Welford, happily weary and ready for a drink. Perfect. Let’s stop here. How much further have we got to go? Were we only 2/3rds of the way? It was at this point that we established that Brian’s estimated time was based on his previous trip as part of a river race! Roger and Jodi had something to get home for. They bid us a farewell and paddled on. The rest of us made for the pub and a much needed series of cold drinks. Mobile phones were produced all round as partners and families were warned that we would back a bit later than originally planned.
As far as I’m concerned the evening paddle was worth any grief my paddling partners might have received. The sun set beautifully in the trees ahead of us. Along the river and at locks there were regular weekenders barbecuing and seemingly happy to share. We had added bow paddlers to the solo open boats, towing the kayaks behind and speeding us up considerably.
There were three more locks to negotiate. One weir had a smooth apron down into lovely curving fast stream. Most of us could shoot that. PK ran first and got caught in the shallow water on the weir face. We freed the towed kayaks and sent them down alone. I paddled onto the weir face and stuck fast. Some aggressive punting with my paddle freed me and I collected James at the bottom. Richard had the same problem, but eventually we made it and picked up our towed boats and passengers. The last weir was a rocky one. We were tired and wanted to shoot, but weren’t sure. PK went for a closer look and went too close. We watched him bounce down and shake his head at the bottom. Portage time and a lesson learned for PK.
Over the last mile twilight slowly yielded to the new night. A concave moon guided us into the streetlights of Bidford and a happy band found the get out just below the bridge. As we hurried to get the boats out and loaded up mobile phones flashed out again and optimistic promises were made about how soon we would be home again.
I have often been told that we have to make the most of our opportunities. I had thought the summer paddling season over and this was a gift hat we just had to accept. Thanks to Brian for offering the gift and to everyone else for making it possible.
Tess was led by Brian, paddling with Simon, Stuart, Ilona, James, Malcolm, Roger, Jodi, PK (Jon), Richard and Jim (with Jim’s friend Finn).
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